Henry Colley (died 1584)

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Sir Henry Colley, or Cowley (died 1584) was an Irish soldier and landowner. He is chiefly remembered today as the ancestor of the 1st Duke of Wellington.


Little is known of his early years, except that he is thought to have been the son of Walter Cowley (c. 1500-1548), Principal Solicitor for Ireland, and thus the grandson of Robert Cowley (c. 1470-1546), Master of the Rolls in Ireland. Records and monuments in Glaston, Rutland provide evidence that the Colley family were Lords of the Manor of Glaston from about the year 1400, and also that a Walter and Robert Colley left Glaston for Ireland in about the time of Henry VII.[1] Both Robert and Walter rose to positions of eminence through the patronage of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell's downfall was disastrous for the Cowleys, who were generally unpopular and mistrusted: both Robert and Walter were removed from office and imprisoned for a time in England.[2]

Walter in his last years was restored to royal favour, and appointed Surveyor-General for Ireland. He presumably left to his son a comfortable inheritance, since in 1554 Henry was able to lease Carbury Castle, County Kildare for 21 years, and later acquired it permanently.[3]


Henry's good qualities attracted the attention of Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland, who later recalled him as a young man who was "valiant, fortunate and a good servant". He was knighted in 1560[4] and given a Commission of Array for Kildare, and power to impose martial law in County Offaly and adjoining territories. He was a member of the Privy Council of Ireland and sat on the Court of Castle Chamber (the Irish equivalent of the English Star Chamber).

His principal duty for many years was to keep the peace in County Offaly. Sir Henry Sidney in 1580, recommending Henry Colley ( who was by then a sick and ageing man) to his successor as Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey, 14th Baron Grey de Wilton, called him "as good a border-keeper as I have ever met", a man who had for many years kept the county of Offaly in peace and good obedience, and was personally "a sound and fast friend to me". Sir Nicholas Malby, Lord President of Connaught had written a year earlier that while Colley had kept the peace in Offaly for many years he was now "sorely oppressed by rebels".

In his later years he seems to have descended into a physical and mental decline: he was described as being "blind and helpless".[5] He died in the early autumn of 1584.

Carbury Castle


He married Catherine Cusack, daughter of Sir Thomas Cusack, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, whose mother was a Wellesley, the surname which the Colleys adopted in the eighteenth century.[6] After his death she remarried William Eustace and died in 1598. They had four children:[7]


  1. ^ Ball, F. Elrington, The Judges in Ireland 1221-1921 John Murray London 1926 Vol.1 p.203
  2. ^ Ball p.203
  3. ^ Norgate, Gerald "Richard Colley Wellesley", Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900 Vol.60 p.210
  4. ^ DNB p.210
  5. ^ Longford, Elizabeth, Wellington- the Years of the Sword Panther Edition 1971 p.30
  6. ^ Longford p.30
  7. ^ Mosley, ed. Burke's Peerage 106th Edition 1999 p.2971
  8. ^ Burke's Irish Landed Gentry 1912, p.689.